The functional form of a Confederation space station lazily orbited a planet Teklerat had never seen before, in a system far from where he had suffered the indignity of capture. Suicide was forbidden, yet Requeteran had declared any imprisoned Chon’ith had a duty to let himself die. It was the only way to prevent betrayal. His human captors did not appear capable of understanding the wounds they had inflicted. Translation software in their internal communication systems had allowed him to understand every insipid notion about compassion, cooperation and peaceful co-existence. He had met each conversation with sullen silence, his eyes refusing to meet anyone else’s. The offerings of food and water (somehow, the humans had been able to provide an imitation of Chon’ith cuisine) had been ignored. Unfortunately a Chon’ith’s metabolism could sustain him for several weeks, which meant several weeks of enduring the revolting platitudes of the humans.
They asked him about defensive grids and fleet deployments, attempting to (as he overheard one human put it) ‘butter him up’ with offers to protect Chon’ith life against unnecessary casualties. The notion made him feel ill. Instead Teklerat gazed around the innards of his cell, a simple grey cubicle, with strobe lights above him, secured from his reach by being eight feet off the ground, and protected by transparent reinforced glass. A basic bed, lined with what the humans had called a mattress and duvet (horrible, overly soft padding) stretched across the wall to the left, looking from the door, that had one-way glass in the middle, denying Teklerat any view of the world outside his prison. On the corner of the bed, a tray with untouched food and water awaited collection, and all the while, Teklerat brooded, replaying the moment his capture became inevitable.
He had raged at first, when the human marines that had boarded his ship failed to kill him, as honour and duty commanded. They had found the red-skinned Chon’th a formidable opponent in combat, even after several stun rounds. Teklerat had left at least two marines dead, with his bare fists, despite their armour, yet they had kept firing to incapacitate. When he had finally succumbed, and awoken in his purgatory, Teklerat’s fists had found new targets, pummelling the walls with such power that someone had seen fit to channel a low-level electrical charge through them, deterring him from continuing. All he could do now was consider his dishonour.
“He hasn’t given us anything of use Captain?” Admiral Ryan Hawk asked as he strode down the corridor of CNSS Manticore’s brig deck. The prim white of his uniform was contrasted by the dull grey that seemed to be an awkward feature of every Confederation Navy construct, as though the uniforms were deliberately bright enough to avoid walking into each other.
“Admiral…” Captain Sachi Egwu stopped outside the cell. “So far he has not even given us his name.”
Hawk looked through the one-way glass, staring the orc-like being within the room. “He’s still in that impressive gold armour. Why did we allow that?” He asked without looking away.
“Because Admiral, we don’t know the cultural significance of it. Cooperation with this species could still be possible.” Replied Egwu.
“Ha! I’m seriously doubting that at this point. Every attempt at resolving this war diplomatically has been rebuked. Every effort to enforce the strength of our position over theirs has been ignored. I’ve met some stubborn humans and aliens in my time – I have a four year-old granddaughter who can get sweets through sheer persistent ‘puhlease!’ But this… this is beyond anything I’ve ever encountered.” He turned to face Captain Egwu again, wondering for a second if she was as young as she looked. Or am I simply old?
“What are you thinking sir?” Egwu asked in her soft voice.
Hawk scratched at his beard. “Maybe we take a chance, force his hand. Remove his armour by force, make him feel more vulnerable.”
Egwu’s ebony skin flushed a notch. Her eyes sharpened. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea Admiral. We have him contained, but he’s very strong. We’d probably need a full squad of marines to hold him, and he’d probably force us to cut his armour off, at serious risk of injury to himself and to any team sent in there.”
“Well we can’t be having that. I don’t want your people hurt Captain, I can assure you. Any suggestions? We need information and we need it soon.”
Egwu’s gaze turned to the brooding Chon’ith in his cell. “They regard battle and strength as major sources of honour. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be captured by the enemy, when your entire culture is built on victory through might.”
Hawk arched an eyebrow. “You have an idea?”
Yes sir, I do.” Egwu smiled. “We hit him in his honour, so to speak.”
Not for the first time, Teklerat’s cell door slid open, permitting the entry of two humans. The ebony-skinned one he had met before (it sickened him that a female of any species could be granted military control, least of all where it affected him). Her white uniform was simple in comparison to his proud, glorious armour, and totally impractical – how could she be expected to fight in cloth?
The male was new. He looked older than the female, though judging human age wasn’t exactly a Chon’ith skill. He had a lining of fur all over his chin and under his nose, flecked with grey, which mirrored the fur on the top of his head. To Teklerat it looked absolutely ridiculous.
The male stood slightly taller, but that wasn’t the detail Teklerat noticed. Five embroidered gold stripes lined either shoulder, unlike the four stripes on the female’s shoulders. If he was right, the male was of higher rank, but who knew with humans…
“I’m Admiral Ryan Hawk, commanding officer for the sector. I understand you and I to be of equivalent rank, Superior Chief.”
Teklerat’s eyes widened slightly. How did Hawk know his rank?
Hawk smiled. “You’re not the first Chon’ith we’ve encountered who wears gold battle armour. Some of our earliest encounters in combat had Superior Chiefs ordering our people to surrender. Oh, that and we’ve been hacking your ship’s computers. Still, we haven’t decoded your name. It would be nice to know put a name to the face we beam back to your people.”
Teklerat bolted upright and Captain Egwu drew from a concealed holster at the back of her belt a sleek-looking firearm.
“This is a souped-up Mark IV stun pistol. We’ve tested it on some other prisoners. It will penetrate your armour and it will hurt a Chon’ith to the point where your bodily functions become involuntary. I would imagine you wouldn’t enjoy having humans clean you up. Now, sit down.”
The Chon’ith warrior simmered for a moment, seriously considering rushing the arrogant female, but she held a deep resolve in her eyes, whilst the male just stood there, calm and confident. With an angry expulsion of breath, Teklerat lowered himself back upon the bed.
“What do you want?” He spat.
“Information.” Replied Hawk, maintaining a slightly amiable tone. “We want to end this war without destroying your people.”
“Then you should fight us with honour, and accept your inevitable defeat.”
“You mean ‘abandon tactics and strategy’, because your people cannot match us there.” Retorted Hawk. “That isn’t going to happen. What will happen is that if you don’t help us, we’ll beam messages into Chon’ith space saying you helped us anyway.”
Teklerat simmered, his rage building. “You would cast such a despicable slur against my name? Humans deserve extinction.”
“I will do what is necessary to save human lives. If I have to sacrifice the honour of one obstinate Superior Chief to do that, I will. If you actually help us, be it via intel or even via a peaceful, diplomatic ending, you will be saving countless Chon’ith too.”
“Better to die knowing I did not betray my people.”
“Your people will believe you did.” Replied Egwu. “You can die with the knowledge your family and loved ones, and every Chon’ith believes you betrayed them, or you can help us end this pointless war, and no one will ever know you said a word.”
Teklerat lowered his gaze, staring at the gun metal floor. He could feel his skin boiling, not from the uncomfortable temperatures humans appeared to enjoy, but from loathing – a deep, passionate hatred of where he found himself.
“We have other Chon’ith prisoners. It would be all too easy to beam their images back home, randomly plucking faces and saying ‘this one told us everything they knew’. We can dismantle their honour, very publicly, ruining their lives as well as yours, or you can help us.” Hawk stated bluntly.
Silence reigned. The ‘choice’ Teklerat faced was was beyond unpalatable. His anger was rising, approaching melting point…
“This is a waste of time.” Remarked Egwu. “Admiral, he won’t even give us his name, he lacks the courage to even to that, how will he…”
“My name is Teklerat. I am a Superior Chief who will betray my people quietly, or accept public dishonour to keep it in private. You had best pray, if humans do such a thing, that your gods protect you, for if I ever…”
“That’ll do.” Interrupted Egwu, smiling broadly. “Now we have your name, we don’t need anything else. You just granted us access to your computers, thank you.”
“I… what?” Teklerat sat in stunned silence. “You have no means of using my name to do that!”
“Actually…” It was Hawk’s turn to smile. “We do. Command authorisation was needed to ensure no key files were automatically deleted – we don’t know if your computers respond to hacking in that manner, but we weren’t going to take the risk. Now we don’t need to expose you, we can gain all we need without you.”
“I will kill you!” Teklerat rose, but before he could take a single step, a deep, searing pain pierced his abdomen, and spread like tendrils of fire through his stomach and skin. His body convulsed as Egwu’s stun weapon unleashed its payload, and he collapsed to the floor, still shaking as the humans left.